Category Archives: BMA Archives

A closer look at the BMA Archives

Through a grant from the National Historic Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the BMA Archive is working to provide greater access to some of its most heavily-used collections. As part of my work as the Project Archivist on this grant, I’m processing the Archive’s Photographs Collection: more than 150 boxes (43 linear feet, in archivist-speak) of photographic material documenting exhibitions, events, people, and the BMA grounds from 1923 to the present. The collection provides a rich visual overview of the BMA’s history—and the people and works of art that have shaped the institution.

The BMA’s Archive holds some particular gems, but as with many archival collections, more value can be found in the sum of its parts.

Model of the Waterman house parlor of Warren, Rhode Island, circa 1820, 1943

For example, look at this photograph. At first glance it appears to be a 19th century parlor, or maybe collection of furniture in one of the BMA’s period rooms.

Model of the West Parlor, Mount Vernon, Fairfax County, Virginia, 1743-1799, 1943

But looking through other photographs from this exhibition, it quickly becomes apparent that something else is going on here. These images show the intricately decorated interiors of American Rooms in Miniature by Mrs. James Ward Thorne shown at the BMA in 1943.

Other photos demonstrate changes in the BMA’s history over time. The Photographs Collection includes images from many of the Maryland Annual Artist exhibitions throughout the 20th century. Even just a quick glance at the images of the exhibition judges provides an interesting look into the changing tastes and interests of the art world.

Xavier Gonzalez, Concetta Scaravaglione and William Calfee, judges for the Fifteen Annual Maryland Artists exhibition, 1947

Xavier Gonzalez, Concetta Scaravaglione and William Calfee, judges for the Fifteen Annual Maryland Artists exhibition, 1947

Charles Chetham, James Elliott, Richard Tuttle (Kynaston McShine, not pictured), jurors for the 1970 Maryland Annual exhibition, 1970

Charles Chetham, James Elliott, Richard Tuttle (Kynaston McShine, not pictured), jurors for the 1970 Maryland Annual exhibition, 1970

Finding aids for the Photographs Collection, along with the other collections whose processing is generously supported by the NHPRC, are currently being completed. Digital collections and other finding aids can be found on the BMA Archives site.


Improving access to the BMA Archives holdings

This is the second of two posts introducing the BMA Archives. The first post covered what’s in the Archives, and how to find resources and materials.

Men viewing decoration near Museum entrance, The Art of Mary Cassatt exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1941

As you browse through the finding aids for the BMA’s institutional records, you may notice that sometimes there isn’t much information beyond series descriptions.  What if you are researching the work of Mary Cassatt and would like to see photographs of related exhibition installations? You wouldn’t be able to tell from the finding aid that the Archives does have photos of the 1941 exhibition The Art of Mary Cassatt.

Over the past decade, the Archives’ staff—along with volunteers, interns, and Work Study students—has been hard at work improving access to the holdings. This work was given a huge push forward with a 2011 grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) that allowed staff to process the entire backlog of nearly 1,000 linear feet of records and create a records management program to manage the flow of material coming to the Archives.  Finding aids are now available for all institutional record groups and manuscripts both on the BMA’s website and via ArchiveGrid.  General descriptions are searchable on WorldCat and the BMA Library’s catalogue.

Baltimore Museum of Art Booth, Baltimore City Fair, 1973

In July of 2014, the BMA received a second grant from the NHPRC that will allow staff to improve upon the work already done and ensure that detailed information is available for the most heavily used materials. The project team will process at either the folder or item level five key collections:

We will also create a plan for the long term digital preservation of material we have already digitized and plan to digitize in the future.

Bianca Hand, Archives Intern, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 2014

Summer Internships with the BMA Archives

If you’re a library school student or recent grad, keep an eye on the BMA’s Employment page for information about the summer internship application process. The NHPRC generously provided funding for six interns to assist with the project. Two interns worked with us in fall 2014 and we hope to have more work with us this spring as well as over the summer. Along with the interns, grant-funded Project Archivist Alexanne Brown joined us in January 2015 and will be responsible for processing the majority of the collections listed above.  Alexanne and the rest of the project team are now hard at work processing the Photograph Collection, Audiovisual Collection, and Juried and Invitational Exhibitions Records.  Look for more posts about what we find in the coming months!


Introduction to the BMA Archives

LS1.2sThe Baltimore Museum of Art, from the south, circa 1940.

Everywhere you look at the BMA, there are connections to history—from the architecture of the John Russell Pope building to the re-creation of Claribel Cone and Etta Cone’s apartments. The Museum’s Archives is reflective of this, with a rich array of materials documenting the history of the BMA, as well as the art collectors and other people who have helped shape it from 1914 to the present. Whether you have a scholarly research question or are just curious about the BMA’s past, helpful resources can be found in the Archives.

What’s in the Archives?
The Archives’ collection comprises approximately 1,400 linear feet or almost four football fields of primary source material such as letters, diaries, meeting minutes, photographs, films, audio recordings, architectural plans, research notes, and financial documents.  These are divided into two distinct parts: institutional records and manuscripts. The former are records of the activities of the Museum’s staff, volunteers, and trustees. For example, the Prints, Drawings and Photographs Department Records include curators’ research for exhibitions, correspondence about purchasing works of art, and logistical documents for the Print Fairs.  Manuscripts, on the other hand, are the personal papers of art collectors and others with a connection to the Museum. Claribel Cone and Etta Cone’s papers include account books listing their purchases while traveling in Europe, letters from Claribel to Etta describing life in Germany during World War I, and photographs of their apartments in Baltimore.


Front room, Claribel Cone’s apartment (8B), Marlborough Apartments, Baltimore, Maryland

How do I find resources and materials?
To learn more about the materials in the Archives, start by reviewing the finding aids, which are easily keyword searchable with your browser’s find function (Ctrl+f). Because of the volume of material inside each box listed in the finding aids (often hundreds of items), you will find general descriptions of categories of materials called series or sub-series—correspondence, financial records, research, etc. When the significance of the materials warrants more information, detailed folder or item descriptions may also be included.

If you spot something that seems helpful to your research, please contact us. You don’t need to be a BMA member to visit the Archives. All researchers are welcome, by appointment, Monday through Friday, between 9 am and 5 pm.  To make an appointment, call (443) 573-1778 or email       


Letter from Samuel Putnam Avery to George A. Lucas, August 25, 1895

Membership at the BMA – curing septic stomachs since 1940

Grace Smith in "Temperance" Costume and Joseph Katz in costume with placard, A Souvenir of Romanticism in America exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1940  Digital reproduction of 1 lantern slide, 4 x 3.25 cm  Photograph Collection, Archives and Manuscripts Collections, The Baltimore Museum of Art. LS3.32

Grace Smith in “Temperance” Costume and Joseph Katz in costume with placard, A Souvenir of Romanticism in America exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1940
Digital reproduction of 1 lantern slide, 4 x 3.25 cm
Photograph Collection, Archives and Manuscripts Collections, The Baltimore Museum of Art. LS3.32

We’ve always suspected the healing properties of a BMA membership, but a recent find by colleagues at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art confirms that joining the BMA will make you well…

Illustrations associated with the exhibit A souvenir of Romanticism in America at the Baltimore Museum of Art, 1940. Leslie Cheek papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Two weeks ago, we received an email from staff at the Archives, noting that they had “uncovered an object in one of our collections which refers to the BMA.” The object – part of the Leslie Cheek papers, 1940-1983 – was an unusual one – a fold-out triptych that depicted three cartoon stomachs, each of which was in a different state of health. The top stomach was a septic stomach, “gangrened by rum and tobacco”; the second one was a sick stomach, “relieved by abstinence but unsatisfied”; finally, the stomach at the bottom of the triptych was a sound stomach, a state achieved “after joining the Baltimore Museum of Art.”

Our interest was piqued. Where had this object come from, and what did it refer to? Could we get any more information on it? Would joining the BMA still heal an ailing stomach?

To the BMA Archives!

To solve this mystery, we turned to Emily Rafferty, the BMA’s Head Librarian and Archivist. In short order, she uncovered the wonderful image above, which depicts Miss Grace Hooper Smith, BMA Membership Secretary, holding the triptych. In addition, the full description for the piece in our files gives far more context to the stomach cartoon:

Two images from the exhibition, A Souvenir of Romanticism in America (May 10 – August 10, 1940) at The Baltimore Museum of Art. At right is Miss Grace Hooper Smith, BMA Membership Secretary, dressed as a woman protesting the consumption of alcohol. The exhibition turned the museum top to bottom into a nineteenth century institution – publications were written in the florid style of the period, costumed actors were hired to greet museum-goers, and a Godey’s Ball was held for the opening. One of the publications was titled, “Popular Poisons, Tract No. 4: Rum and Tobacco” and it appealed to museum-goers to pledge temperance and membership in the Museum. On the left is likely Joseph Katz, a trustee at the time also in costume and holding a sign advertising the exhibition.

There you have it. Not only was the mystery unraveled, but we also get to take a delightful wander down memory lane. It seems like a perfect moment for #throwbackthursday.

What do you think? Does art cure what ails you? Do you have a favorite #throwbackthursday moment? Share it with us. We’d love to hear about the mysteries you’ve uncovered when looking into the past.